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CANNES: Ivanhoe Pictures Commits to Asian Mega-Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

Backed by Singapore-based U.S. financier Robert Friedland and headed by former GreeneStreet president, John Penotti, (pictured) new production and investment company Ivanhoe Pictures has committed upward of $130 million to making Asian movies.

The company name comes from Friedland’s publicly listed Ivanhoe Energy Canadian mining empire and Ivanhoe Capital, his Singapore-based fund business. Friedland’s net worth is estimated at $1.8 billion.

Ivanhoe Pictures came about after I toured China, Hong Kong and Singapore in October 2011. Robert (Friedland) got the pitch straight away and understood how we would conduct business in Asia,” Penotti told Variety. “We deliberately put strategy before projects.

“The idea is to source local-language film, and to produce and develop them using expertise garnered from the U.S., and secondly to make English-language films with Asian elements,” he added.

In November the company unveiled a four-year deal with Fox Intl. Prods., the international production arm of 21st Century Fox, to co-finance a number of FIP films throughout Asia, some already in pre-production, as part of the $130m allocated by Ivanhoe for FIP films. It is committed to nine projects in the first year, and upwards of 10 in the second year.

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FIP makes local-language movies worldwide and in Asia and has made or is now preparing pictures in India (with Fox Star Studios), South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. FIP movies are released in local markets and may also be picked up by other Fox units in other territories.

Ivanhoe’s own local-language pictures are sourced through the company’s Beijing office, staffed by former China Central Television exec Ray Chen and Janet Wu. The first Mandarin-language film may be announced later this week.

They are expected to use Ivanhoe-generated financial structures. “There is so much money available in China that our problem will be holding on to the financial influence over the pictures,” said Penotti. “We need to prove that we won’t simply come and go. That there will be a senior executive present (in China) all the time and that we understand and bring something to the development process.”

Penotti recently relocated from New York to Los Angeles in order to be closer to Asia and to other key partners.

Ivanhoe’s first English-language production is its financing and co-production role — alongside Nina Jacobson (“The Hunger Games”) and Brad Simpson’s Color Force — on an adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestseller “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Ivanhoe’s first acquisition is its recently unveiled involvement on John Carney-directed “Begin Again.” Ivanhoe is co-acquiring Chinese rights with leading Chinese film and TV combine Beijing Galloping Horse.

“Three years from now we are looking to see the FIP slate represent half of our business. That is because we will be producing more and because we will be looking for other completed third-party films to release in China. ‘Begin Again’ was not a random move,” said Penotti. “We will be co-financing and releasing in China … and are in discussions with companies.”

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